Smashing stereotypes

People with disabilities refused interviews, jobs: Report
By Amanda Silliker
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 09/10/2012

People with disabilities — from mobility, hearing and seeing to learning, emotional and developmental — feel discriminated against in the workplace, according to a report by the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC).

Nearly three-quarters (74.2 per cent) of people with disabilities — both employed and unemployed — believe employers consider them as disadvantaged in employment, found CHRC’s report, which drew on findings from Statistics Canada’s Participation and Activity Limitation Survey 2006.

“Most persons with disabilities do experience discrimination, generally and in the workplace,” said Shamira Madhany, chief diversity and accessibility officer at the Ontario Public Service (OPS) in Toronto.

“It’s based on stereotypes. As human beings, we have a tendency to focus on the disability rather than the ability of individuals and so we assume, whether they have a physical or invisible disability, they are unable to participate fully.”

There’s a misconception and misjudgment by employers when they extend their perception of an individual’s disability to other areas of his life,
“unjustly and wrongly,” said Stephen Jull, consultant at the Yukon Disability Employment Strategy in Whitehorse.

“For example, someone who uses a wheelchair, employers extend their disabilities to their capabilities — so being a manager or working in another workplace — which has nothing to do with their mobility issues.”

One-quarter (23.6 per cent) of people with disabilities said they have been refused an interview, found the report.

An employer may have to take extra steps to attract people with disabilities and show it is an inclusive employer, said Charles Théroux, director of research at CHRC in Ottawa.

Almost every group has a communication medium that reaches out to them specifically — such as a newsletter or website — and employers should seek to advertise postings through those channels rather than just using traditional methods, he said.

“Employers do have to go an extra mile to not only appear to be open to bring members of the people with disabilities group within the workplace, but also to do what it takes to make it a reality all through the selection process,” he said.

One-third (32.8 per cent) of people with disabilities said they have been refused a job, found the report.

All employers should have a policy in place for inclusive hiring practices and strive to look beyond the disability throughout the hiring process, said Jull.

“It’s not about pre-screening someone because they have a disability or any particular sort of demographic as a potential hire, it’s about understanding when you’re looking to fill a role, you’re looking to fill the role with the best possible person and not extending some stereotype against that job specification,” he said.

At OPS, managers are trained in diversity and inclusion, and are given guidelines and tip sheets on inclusive hiring practices. For example, one of the tip sheets on executive recruitment discusses how to overcome barriers in the hiring process, such as attitudes or assumptions about certain groups of people, said Madhany.

Employers should ask job applicants to indicate if they have any special needs. If so, employers should provide whatever may be necessary for the interview, such as access to a computer to complete a test rather than pen and paper, said Théroux.

“If you want to reach out, you have to be open-minded with a variety of approaches that would be fair and might need adaptation or accommodation for certain members of the applicants because, otherwise, you are not giving them a fair test,” he said.

At OPS, which has 65,000 employees across the province, 12 per cent of the workforce self-identifies as having some form of a disability — compared to nine per cent of the Ontario workforce — and 11 per cent of senior management identify as having a disability, said Madhany.

“We hire many people that have disabilities, many of whom that are in senior management and that just demonstrates that, ‘You know what, this is an important point and we don’t see the disability when we bring people on board,’” she said.

OPS also has a targeted internship program providing 12 people with disabilities with one-year placements in the HR service delivery area. The program has been in place for four years and 20 per cent of participants have been hired by OPS, said Madhany.

Nearly two in 10 (15.8 per cent) people with disabilities feel they are given less responsibility than their co-workers, according to the CHRC report.

“(Some disabilities) make managers uncomfortable and usually (issues) tend to be ignored, left alone, and slowly, tasks will be taken away and given to other colleagues because they don’t know what to do, don’t know if they should ask, ‘I gave you this project to work on and yet you have not submitted anything,’” said Théroux.

Accommodation may be required

To deal with this issue, managers need to understand employees with disabilities can work as well as other employees, they might just need some accommodations, he said.

These should be determined on a case-by-case basis because each individual’s circumstance is unique, said Jull.

“There’s often the assumption that accommodation is going to be very costly but we find most cost under $500 and the most well-used one is actually free, which is flexible work schedules — if that’s something your business can accommodate, then it doesn’t cost you anything, really,” said Lisa Rawlings Bird, executive director of the Yukon Council on Disability in Whitehorse.

OPS has a variety of accommodations in place for employees including personal attendants and assistive devices, as well as modifications to work tasks, hours or equipment, said Madhany.

With the tight labour market, now is a good time for employers to be tapping into the pool of workers with disabilities and holding onto the ones they already have.

“When you give them the chance to show that they can do the job, it makes for someone that is hugely committed and loyal and that person will spread the word that this employer is a very good employer, so this is free publicity,” said Théroux.

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